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The Chorus Movie: Unabashedly Sentimental + Old-Fashioned Crowd-Pleaser

The Chorus movie: The year’s biggest hit box office in its native France, Christophe Barratier’s sentimental drama with music feels like a handsomely mounted but less interesting cross between Music from the Heart and To Sir with Love. (Pictured: Jean-Baptiste Maunier in The Chorus movie.)
  • The Chorus movie (2004) review: Officially inspired by Noël-Noël’s A Cage of Nightingales, but owing as much to later fare like To Sir with Love and Madame Sousatzka, Christophe Barratier’s feature debut – and major commercial hit in its native France – is an old-fashioned, shamelessly sentimental crowd-pleaser.

The Chorus movie: Christophe Barratier’s sentimental + old-fashioned audience-pleaser

A gigantic hit in France, Christophe Barratier’s feature film debut, The Chorus / Les choristes, is the most recent cinematic incarnation of that age-old theme: The dedicated teacher who, through firmness, kindness, and understanding – mostly kindness and understanding – tames the savage hearts of his/her pupils. In addition to these qualities, the boarding-school teacher in Barratier’s The Chorus movie also brings music into the lives of his students.

Not coincidentally, the music teacher played by Gérard Jugnot[1] in The Chorus is reminiscent of the one played by actor/co-screenwriter Noël-Noël in Jean Dréville’s A Cage of Nightingales / La cage aux rossignols back in 1945. That’s because The Chorus is a de facto remake – with the action changed from the early 1930s to the late 1940s – of the real-life-inspired and Best Original Story Academy Award-nominated drama.

And that’s how the power of music – more specifically, the power of choir singing – saves a rowdy bunch of future bank robbers, corrupt politicians, and serial killers from myriad fates worse than death, much to the delight of audiences hungry for a large serving of cotton-candy cinema with powdered sugar sprinkled all over it.

Power of Music

Barratier’s The Chorus movie begins with two middle-aged men, the renowned French conductor Pierre Morhange (Jacques Perrin, who also co-produced) and an old friend, Pépinot (Didier Flamand), as they’re brought together by the death of their old music teacher. Before you can say flashback, they start reminiscing about their days at a rural boarding school for boys.

In 1949, the unemployed music teacher Clément Mathieu (Jugnot) arrives at the strangely named school Fond de l’Étang (“Bottom of the Pond”) to work as a teacher-cum-supervisor. The students are a bunch of quasi-murderous hooligans who, according to the school’s strict disciplinarian headmaster Rachin (François Berléand), will learn to behave themselves only if they’re either beaten with a stick or put in solitary confinement. Preferably, both.

Mathieu, however, thinks otherwise. Although he has been warned that the boys are monsters who just happen to look like human beings, he takes a liking to them, becoming particularly fond of the gifted, angelic-looking Pierre (Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc choir singer Jean-Baptiste Maunier) and the young orphan Pépinot (Maxence Perrin, Jacques Perrin’s real-life son), who every weekend waits in vain at the gate for a visit from his parents.

After he began teaching the boys to sing, Mathieu finds himself mesmerized by Pierre’s heavenly voice. The boys, for their part, learn to trust and respect their teacher. The inevitable problems arise when Rachin begins feeling threatened by Mathieu’s success, especially when a singularly troublesome youth arrives at the school.

Guess who eventually comes out on top.

The Chorus movie with Gérard Jugnot. Update: Unsurprisingly, Christophe Barratier’s sentimental, boy-focused drama went on to receive a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. The song “Vois sur ton chemin,” composed by Barratier and Bruno Coulais, was also shortlisted.

Right directorial touch & top-notch acting missing

For treacle like this to –at least partially – work, one of several elements must be present:

  • A screenplay featuring humor/wit and/or pathos, such as Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s for John Schlesinger’s more personalized Madame Sousatzka, in which Shirley MacLaine stars as a private tutor.
  • One or more solid performances: Examples include MacLaine as the tutorial Madame and Meryl Streep’s real-life violin teacher Roberta Guaspari in Music of the Heart.
  • The right directorial touch; e.g., Tay Garnett’s in the charmingly nostalgic Cheers for Miss Bishop, starring a pitch-perfect Martha Scott.
  • A singing/crying Lulu (“A friend who taught me right from wrong…”) as seen/heard in James Clavell’s To Sir with Love, starring a bad karma’ed Sidney Poitier (see Blackboard Jungle) as an immigrant teacher teaching social etiquette to lowlives at an East London school.

Unfortunately, MacLaine, Streep, Scott, and Lulu are nowhere to be seen (or heard) in The Chorus movie, while Barratier’s direction and screenplay (co-written with Philippe Lopes-Curval) proudly replace wit and pathos with juvenile antics and bathos.

And that’s why this musicalized Au prof, avec amour will appeal only to those who like their movies dripping with syrup. Now, considering The Chorus‘ blockbuster status in a number of countries, there are millions of such filmgoers out there. Those will surely not be disappointed.

If you’re one of them, just make sure to check your blood-sugar level once the final credits start rolling.

The Chorus / Les choristes (2004)

Director: Christophe Barratier.

Screenplay: Christophe Barratier & Philippe Lopes-Curval.
Inspired by the 1945 motion picture A Cage of Nightingales / La cage aux rossignols, written by Georges Chaperot (story), Noël-Noël, and René Wheeler.

Cast: Gérard Jugnot. François Berléand. Jean-Baptiste Maunier. Kad Merad. Marie Bunel. Jacques Perrin. Maxence Perrin. Didier Flamand. Grégory Gatignol. Thomas Blumenthal. Jean-Paul Bonnaire. Cyril Bernicot. Simon Fargeot. Théodule Carré-Cassaigne. Philippe du Janerand.

Cinematography: Jean-Jacques Bouhon, Dominique Gentil, and Carlo Varini. Film Editing: Yves Deschamps. Music: Bruno Coulais. Production Design: François Chauvaud. Producers: Arthur Cohn, Nicolas Mauvernay, and Jacques Perrin.


The Chorus movie” notes

Highest-paid French actor

[1] According to Jean-Yves Guérin and Léna Lutaud’s Figaro Enterprises article “L’Argent des Acteurs,” The Chorus movie actor and associate producer Gérard Jugnot earned €5.45 million (approx. $6.8 million) in 2004, making him the best paid French actor that year. (Jean Reno was the runner-up.) A large chunk of that money came from Jugnot’s participation in The Chorus.

As per L’Express, as a result of several contractual agreements Jugnot will have to wait about 10 years to receive the total amount of his earnings.


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The Chorus movie cast and crew information via Cineuropa and other sources.

Gérard Jugnot and Jean-Baptiste Maunier The Chorus movie images: Pathé Distribution.

The Chorus Movie: Movie: Unabashedly Sentimental + Old-Fashioned Crowd-Pleaser” last updated in February 2021.

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10 comments

Annamarie Carstens -

i saw Les choristes and think it was the best film our namibia tv has show. i read jacques website every wednesday when i have a time in my office

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hannah stirrup -

jean-baptise maunier is sooooooooooo fit

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Finnola -

This was on Tv tonight. It was a beautiful film that does not pretend to be anything else but a story that has been told by teachers forever and all over the world. The negative ghetto story with the big competition win at the end, is not as true to the lives of teachers who just do things with their students. The circle goes endlessly on with no awards, violins and sobbing parents.
But the truth is in the students who remember. So delicately captured by the Director.
Life sometimes is hard but there is always sugar to be found.

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Danny Morris -

This film was amazing. I watched it in my french class at school and no have to do a project on it with the wonderful help of my teacher. Thank you very much.

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melissa&jasmine -

oh to the effing goodness , this movie was fantabulous i absoloutly loved it . I think it should win movie of the year for its couragous work and affirmation it has bought to the french and english people of our nation today .

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melissa&jasmine -

omg that movie was awesome :) the little peninot was so adorablE! AWWWWWWWWWWW.
great work ! it was interesting movie (:

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Darwin Dela Cruz -

Les Choristes is a film that teaches many lessons in life. The film conveys meaningful thoughts through artistic portrayals that perfectly blend with musical scores and cinematography. Rarely you will find masterpiece movie as good as this. Congratulations to the production staff. Thank you for producing the film.

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Emma -

le film est un triomphe, la musique est certainment excellente avec beaucoup des jeunes tres doue pour le chanson (Melange) et aussi pour agissant, ce n’est pas faible, mais je suis anglais et quelquefois je ne comprenait tout mais cette probleme ne bloquer pas me plaisir dans un beau film. TRES BIEN!

TRANSLATION:

The film is a triumph, the music is certainly excellent with many gifted children in singing (melange) and also for acting, it is not weak, but I’m English and sometimes didn’t understand everything (as there were no subtitles) but this problem did not stop my enjoyment of a beautiful film. WELL DONE!

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sarah -

your movie suked, it was the most boring thing i have ever seen. and the language that the children use is so vulger. god stop making films becuz you suck and so does your movies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The worst movie by the worst writter and director!!!

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rebecca -

hello there!!
hows it going??
i would just like to say that your film is awsome!
i was sitting in my living room the oher day, thinking what film could i watch then it suddenly came to me!.. what about the chorous! it relly was a fabo film! =]
i think that pierre morhange is totaly drop dead gorgeous! even though he is 70 years to young for me but oh well!
send him my love please
forever and ever your dearest love..

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